The lives and futures of millions of children are in jeopardy. We have a choice: Invest in the most excluded children now or risk a more divided and unfair world.

Every child has the right to a fair chance in life. But around the world, millions of children are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage that endangers their futures – and the future of their societies.

It’s a typical Friday afternoon in the city. Amena has prepared an elaborate family meal of dal, rice, stewed greens, pumpkin, chicken curry and fish – her daughter Hafsa’s favourite. Hafsa doesn’t feel like sitting around with the adults, though; she’d rather go outside and play. So she makes a game of it, hiding under the table to avoid eating her greens. Eventually, Amena gives up; but she makes sure Hafsa drinks all her milk before she is allowed to dash off with the neighborhood kids.

The family of five doesn’t have much. At US$64 a month, rent for their modest two-bedroom flat in the city eats up about a third of the combined income that Hafsa’s father and grandfather bring in. But it’s enough to provide Hafsa with a loving, nurturing environment. The bedroom shared by Amena and her husband doubles as a playroom: Rainbow-coloured tinsel dangles from the ceiling, and a stack of stuffed animals sits neatly in the corner. Amena, who only finished the eighth grade, is trying hard to make sure her daughter grows up in a stimulating environment. Every night before bed, they recite the alphabet in Bangla and English, so that Hafsa can start school on a strong footing.

There is nothing unique or unusual about Hafsa’s situation. She is simply enjoying the basic rights that every child is entitled to: safety, health, play and education.

Around the world, millions of children are denied these rights and deprived of what they need to grow up healthy and strong – because of their place of birth; because of their race, ethnicity or gender; or because they have a disability or live in poverty.

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